Art & Design

The Best Of The 19th Biennale of Sydney: Free Art For All

By Mitchell Oakley Smith
19th Feb 2014

Sydney has no shortage of art events. Just next week Art Month will launch, involving some 200 events and 65 of the city's commercial galleries, and it isn't long since Sydney Festival closed. But of all the festivals, the Biennale of Sydney surely holds the lead since its inception 40 years ago. Today, the three-month event remains the largest contemporary arts festival in the Asia Pacific, and what's more, it's entirely free!

The 19th Biennale of Sydney, titled You Imagine What You Desire, comprises more than 90 artists from 31 countries, and will take place at the city's leading art institutions and venues: the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Carriageworks, Artspace and Cockatoo Island. Free ferries run to and from Cockatoo Island throughout the festival, running March 21 to June 9.

Juliana Engberg takes the reins of the Biennale of Sydney as its artistic director with impeccable credentials, currently also director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne, and having previously served as curatorial advisor for Australia's presentations at the Venice Biennale.

The director's choice of artists is broad, with highlights including: Scottish artist Nathan Coley, known for his text-based light installations that will be placed in locations around the city; Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, who will debut a specially commissioned, site-specific video installation at the MCA; Chinese performance artist Yingmei Duan, who will inhabit a forest built inside the Art Gallery of New South Wales; and Danish artist Eva Koch will unveil a life-sized projection of an Icelandic waterfall in the vast Turbine Hall at Cockatoo Island.

But it's not just international artists on display. Australian-born, Paris-based video artist Angelica Mesiti (previously of female collective The Kingpins), Mel O'Callaghan also Australian-born and Paris-based, and New York-based artist TV Moore will all present new works created for the Biennale of Sydney, ensuring Australian contemporary art is well represented at the internationally recognised event.

Given its scope, the program has been split into three sections—spanning the opening weeks, middle, and closing weeks—and a rotating roster of public programs, tours, events and film screenings. So if you're keen on a particular artist, plan your visits in advance, they might only be presenting for a short period.

Opening Weeks

To officially open the Biennale, artist Douglas Gordon, visiting Australia for the first time, will deliver the keynote address at the City Recital Hall—a free event for any and all. Over the same weekend, Artist One-on-One Program will pair random participants (visit the website to enter) with artists (including Søren Thilo Funder and Mathias Poledna) to learn more about their processes and practice. As well, Juliana Engberg will lead a series of public talks at the MCA, Carriageworks and Art Gallery of New South Wales—we're particularly looking forward to that of sculptor Callum Morton

Middle Program

The number of one-off public programs slows through the Biennale's middle weeks, giving the audience time to visit other exhibitions and multiple venues. A significant activation will be taking place in the CBD, with the City of Sydney commissioning artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller to create a special, site-specific work to be unveiled on April 30. Meanwhile, world-renowned artist Tacita Dean will present a specially commissioned work at Carriageworks from 1-4 May, speaking with Juliana Engberg on 4 May for those interested to learn more about the YBA's film work. Another highlight is chief curator of London's Hayward Gallery, Stephanie Rosenthal, who'll give a talk exploring the production and presentation of performance in public institutions, like that of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where the event is to be held.  

End Program

To wrap up the Biennale, and to celebrate its sheer size and achievement, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will collaborate with the female vocalists of the Sydney Philharmonia Choir to accompany spectacular film work of Henrik Håkansson, creating a sensory cinematic experience that will out do any Hollywood blockbuster. 

The Biennale of Sydney is free and runs throughout Sydney from 21 March to 9 June 2014. 

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